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Minnesota Court of Appeals rules against woman in felony DWI appeal

Minnesota Court of Appeals rules against woman in felony DWI appeal

This blog has previously discussed the 10-year look-back period that Minnesota law uses in drunk driving cases. Generally, Minnesota driving while impaired and implied consent laws involve a complex array of aggravating factors that may be used to enhance a DWI charge to a more serious offense.

For instance, a first-time DWI offender may face an enhanced charge of third-degree DWI if a blood, breath or urine sample shows a result of 0.20 percent blood alcohol concentration. A third-degree offense is a gross misdemeanor, with more severe consequences than a misdemeanor, or fourth-degree DWI charge.

Similarly, a charge may be enhanced on a first-time DWI offense based upon evidence that a child under the age of 16, who is also three years younger than the driver, was in the vehicle at the time of the alleged drunk driving offense.

The 10-year look-back period can also lead to enhanced DWI offenses if a person has one or more DWI convictions, or implied consent DWI revocations, on his or her record within 10-years of a new DWI charge. However, Minnesota law treats felony DWI charges differently than other events on a person’s driving record. Prior felony DWI and CVO convictions are addressed separately in the Minnesota DWI statute and the 10-year look-back language is not included for prior felonies.

A recent decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals highlights the important distinction in how prior felony DWIs are considered under Minnesota law. Police stopped a woman in February, 2010, after receiving a tip that she may have been driving drunk. After other events not relevant to today’s discussion, the woman was charged with DWI. Prosecutors in Hennepin County sought first-degree, or felony-level, DWI charges against the woman, based upon a 1990 conviction for criminal vehicular operation.

On Nov. 13, 1990, the woman entered a plea agreement in which she pled guilty to the CVO charge related to an alleged drunk driving accident that caused injury to another person. The plea agreement involved a legal tool known as a “stay of imposition.”

Essentially, the judge held off imposing the sentence and placed the woman on probation. Had she violated probation, the judge could have decided to revoke the stay of imposition, and imposed a felony sentence, including sending the woman to prison or jail.

That did not happen. The woman successfully completed probation and was discharged from probation. The order discharging her from probation also restored all of her civil rights and ordered that the CVO conviction be deemed to be a misdemeanor under Minnesota law. That order was issued June 2, 1995.

The woman’s record arguably included only a misdemeanor conviction related to the 1990 incident. In 2010, prosecutors used that conviction, deemed to be a misdemeanor, as a prior felony-level offense to enhance a new DWI charge to a felony. She argued in the district court that the misdemeanor on her record could no longer be used as a prior felony. The trial court disagreed, and the woman was convicted of felony DWI.

Tuesday, the Court of Appeals ruled that the prior CVO conviction, though reduced to a misdemeanor after the woman completed probation, was properly used as a prior felony conviction to enhance a new DWI charge to a felony-level charge.

Source: Minnesota Court of Appeals, “State v. Coleman A10-1884,” Jan. 3, 2012

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